Sarah Slean performs latest concert at Shadbolt Centre
By Cheryl Minns, Senior Columnist
In a world of arena concerts with synthesized music and autotuned voices, Ontario singer-songwriter Sarah Slean prefers to keep it real at her shows. She chooses smaller and more intimate venues to interact with her audience, and performs acoustic versions of her pop and easy listening songs on the piano—with an accompanying string quartet. Slean and Ontario cellist Kevin Fox made a special appearance at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts on September 26, the only Western Canadian stop of Slean’s and Fox’s performances this year.
Slean’s setlist was a well-balanced mix of her biggest hits, some recent tracks, and a few songs with personal stories that she shared during the show. She began with a slow song, “Everything by the Gallon” from her 2011 album Land and Sea, followed by an older song, “Duncan” from her 2002 album Night Bugs. She performed several songs from her 2008 albums, including “Sound of Water” from The Baroness—and “Parasol,” “The Lonely Side of the Moon,” and “The Rose” from The Baroness Redecorates. She explained the Baroness is an on-stage persona she created for herself years ago.
Before she sang “The Lonely Side of the Moon,” Slean told the audience that the lyrics were inspired by her condo building creaking as it swayed during a windstorm, causing her to realize that nature is a powerful force and people need to take care of the planet—otherwise they might have to live on the moon.
A number of her songs come from her philosophical ideas and her pondering the meaning of existence, including several tracks she performed during the show, such as “Life” and “Cosmic Ballet” from Land and Sea and “The Rose.” Before performing “Cosmic Ballet,” she acknowledged that not many artists would write about these sorts of topics, but that she is a big believer in being herself, even if it goes against the norm.
Slean performed 13 songs during the show, including “Eliot” and “Sweet Ones” from Night Bugs, “Pilgrim” from her 2004 album Day One, “The Right Words” from Land and Sea, and “A Thousand Butterflies” from her 2017 album Metaphysics. She was accompanied by a string quartet featuring local performers on the cello, viola, and two violins.
When Fox opened the show, he began with the slow song “In the Eyes of You,” setting a mellow tone for his following set of eight songs. He explained that he started with the song because it helps him get comfortable with a performance space. His next song was a cover of Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” from his album Songs for Cello & Voice, which worked surprisingly well on the cello thanks to a reverb pedal and a loop pedal he used. Seeing the crowd’s interest in how he handled the pedals, he explained how the loop pedal allowed him to record segments of his cello playing and play them back on a loop, so there can be multiple tracks playing during his one-man live performance.
He performed several original songs from his albums, including “The Signs,” “My One and Only,” “Away Too Long,” and “By & By.” He also played a love song he wrote for his wife called “Sail to Me,” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” from his 2011 album Set Right.
Fox accompanied Slean on his guitar during the concert’s final song, “Sweet Ones.” The song was Slean’s first single, which she said she hadn’t intended to include on her first studio album, but her record label thought it would be a popular song. Since the audience joined in and joyfully sang along with the catchy pop tune at the concert, it’s clear that it was an excellent song to draw fans to Slean’s classical style of pop and easy listening music.